Take the Turkey Bus

Illustration from Peter Parley’s Picture Book (NY: Samuel Colman, 1834). It’s an amusing image on first sight, and on deeper reflection downright puzzling. The coach riders appear to also be birds, too—though I can’t tell if they are turkeys, the two streetside birds do seem to have turkey tails. So are these (fancy) turkeys being towed by other (lower class) turkeys? Do these (lower class) turkeys work at the command of that menacingly long whip?

I immediately thought of Hello Kitty and her odd choice of pet: a cat. Charmmy Kitty, according to Sanrio’s website, “is a white persian cat that Papa gave to Hello Kitty as a gift.” Unlike Hello Kitty, who walks on two legs and wears clothes, Charmmy walks on four legs and is in her birth fursuit.

I assume that Papa is a human, not HK’s Papa, given the syntax here. Which means that a human (Papa) gave a humanized cat (HK) a pet cat-like cat (CK)? Fascinating!


If we replaced the turkeys with humans and horses in their “normal” places, would all be right in the world? Is interspecies slavery not slavery?  

…. And now, here is your “moment of zen”:



How Cats and Dogs Lived in London in Olden Times

These telling images accompany Frances Simpson’s article describing cats and dogs in London in the nineteenth century. The images alone describe the extent to which cats’ and dogs’ lives (and deaths) became of deep interest to bourgeois Londoners.

Homeless cat shelter.

Lost dog shelter (the famous Battersea facility).

Street seller of pet food (likely made of horse meat), attracting the local clientele. Where do these cats keep their moneys?

In the late 19th and early 20th, dogs and other live animals were still usually sold out on the street, not in fancy-schmancy pet stores like we have now.

Dog cemetery in Hyde Park.

Source: Simpson, Frances. “Cat and Dog London.” Living London. Ed. George R. Sims. London, Paris, New York & Melbourne: Cassell & Co., 1902. 

Cat & Dog Circus

Excerpted from a March 6th, 1897 Scientific American Supplement, a description of Leonidas Arniotis’ exhibition of trained cats and dogs (his little circus) at the Berlin Winter Garden:

“A comic scene which follows is a triumph in animal training. “Cerberus” is chained at the left side of the stage. “Pippina” takes her place on a chair at the right, and Mr. Arniotis is seated at a well covered table in the center, ready to eat his supper. He has nothing to drink, and, as there is no one to wait on him, he is obliged to go for it himself. After he has left the stage “Cerberus” slips his collar off, climbs up on the table and eats the entire meal. As he is swallowing the last mouthful a thought comes to him of the punishment that must follow, and he looks to his friend to help him out of his difficulty. “Pippina” is then taken by the collar and set on the table, where she remains looking sad, while “Cerberus” resumes his collar. Mr. Arniotis returns, is suspicious of the unhappy victim sitting among the empty dishes, and is about to punish her, when she climbs on her master and whispers in his ear that “Cerberus” is the real culprit. “Pippina’s” innocence is established, and the audience thanks the performers with a round of applause.”

I’m increasingly interested in how much humor can be derived from the trope of the “disobedient dog.” There’s some line when mild disobedience is utterly charming (that is, in the face of otherwise total obedience), and then another line where disobedience mean the dog can be killed).  What is this line? How is it set?

Cats and Dogs: Too Wild to be Property

From the Albany Law Journal 21 (Jan.-Jul. 1880):

            “In regard to the ownership of live animals, the law has long made a distinction between dogs and cats and other domestic quadrupeds, growing out of the nature of the creatures and the purposes for which they are kept. Beasts which have been thoroughly tamed and are use for burden, or for husbandry, or for food—such as horses, cattle and sheep—are as truly property of intrinsic value, and entitled to the same protection, as any kind of goods. But dogs and cats, even in a state of domestication, never wholly lose their wild natures and distinctive instincts, and are kept either for uses which depend on retaining or calling into action those very natures and instincts, or else for the mere whim or pleasure of the owner; and therefore although man may have such right of property in a dog as to maintain trespass or trover for unlawfully taking or destroying it, yet he was held, in the phrase of the books, to have ‘no absolute or valuable property’ therein which could be subject of a prosecution for larceny at common law….

            “And dogs have always been held by the American courts to be entitled to less legal regard and protection than more harmless and useful domestic animals….”

Doubtless, in the jargon of jurisprudence, “protection” of the beast of burden, husbandry, or food has a unique meaning. This is as conceptually awry as saying that the African slave was “protected” under the law from being stolen or killed by the neighboring slave-owner; the “protection” does not inhere to the chattel, but to the owner of the chattel. What’s really unique here is that pet animals were excluded from this (dubious) “protection” because they were conceived of as being too wild to be property—to “never wholly lose their wild natures”—which, alongside their decreasing economic worth as mere pets kept for companionship rather than the Almighty Dollar, disqualified them as “property”—and any “regard and protection” due to property.  

“Selfish” Mothers (Happy Mother’s Day!)

During the nineteenth-century’s pet-keeping mania, periodicals exhorted parents, particularly mothers, to put aside their own convenience or dislike of animals in their homes in order to secure for their children the many pet animals that were required for its healthy development: ”Perhaps the mother is very busy, or…she may dislike animals…. Alas! How any mothers and fathers cherish their selfish ease and consult their convenience” (Eberhart 193).

Shaming and guilt-tripping parents was even an international exercise. The Matron of the London Hospital wrote for the American magazine, Babyhood, to persuade mothers to “submit to the additional inconvenience” for the sake of all the healthful benefits (Lückes 4).



Lückes, Eva C.E. “Children and Pets.” Babyhood: A Monthly Magazine for Mothers 3. Ed. Leroy M. Yale. New York: Babyhood Pub. Co., 1887. 4-7. Google Book Search. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.

“Children’s Pets.” Everything About Dogs. Ed. Alvin George Eberhart. Camp Dennison, Ohio: Eberhart Kennels, 1902. Google Book Search. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.

Inspiring “Becoming Deference” in Cats

In 1894 Phil Robinson shares an anecdote of a cat who, being furiously chased by a dog, chooses to flee by running rather than climbing. “Had she forgotten the value of trees to cats?” he asks: “Had the instinct of feline self-preservation by climbing been evolved out of her by domestication?”. He goes on to suggest that it may be “moral” to “encourage our dogs to chase cats,” so as to “bring the cat back to its bearings.” 

On the one hand, Robinson waxes poetic in the healthy prospect of the cat relearning “its wonderful climbing powers, that it now wastes.” “Waste” is a fascinating concept, particularly as applied to “powers”; after all, the dog is implicitly using its furious chasing powers to the author’s delight. If one is endowed with certain “powers,” is it somehow wrong (on an efficiency, aesthetic, or moral scale) to not use them to their fullest? Even if they are not needed? Even if they cause harm?

Yet while he seems to be earnestly seeking to see “wonderful…powers” in the cat, Robinson ultimately is interested in the practice as a feline performance of subservience to the dog. If frequently practiced, a good, furious chase by a dog once in a while would “inculcate a becoming deference towards dogs.” What would be “becoming” about such deference? In light of the fact that the dog was typically gendered masculine and the cat feminine, Robinson’s prescriptions for enforced feline deference through the threat of canine violence seem startlingly misogynistic.  



Robinson, Phil. “During a Stroll.” Monthly Packet 88 (July-Dec. 1894). Eds. Christabel R. Coleridge and Arthur Innes. London: A.D.Innes & Co., 1894. 659-63. Google Book Search. Web. 

Dogs for Courtship

An 1856 article in New York Times complains that only “very young ladies” could keep pets without censure, even employing them as “diplomatic agents” during courtship. It’s not clear what such uses entailed.

In Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (1850), Dora Spenlow’s pet Spaniel, Jip, challenges and menaces (to the best of his little dog abilities) the besotted David. Perhaps the dog was useful as a way to keep a too-ardent lover at bay.

“[L]adies of mature age, married or single,” however, lack the courtship excuse. These pathetic women who insist on keeping a pet need to be “brought to a sense of shame for the rather low level at which they have arrived” (“Pets, and What They Cost” 411).

A famous literary example of a dog used for courtship is actually wielded by a male character: James Chettam, of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1874), offers a small Maltese as a courtship gift to a reluctant Dorothea. In rejecting “one of nature’s most naïve toys,” Dorothea explains that she does not like “creatures… bred merely as pets” because they strike her as “too helpless,” “too frail,” and “parasitic” (Eliot 34). Although the narrator suggests that this opinion was formed “under the heat of irritation” (Eliot 34), her reasoning is cogent enough: she would prefer a relationship with a creature with a “sou[l] something like our own” that can “either carry on [its] own little affairs or can be companions to us” (Eliot 34)—like the burly St. Bernard, Monk, which Dorothea does engage. In this choice, she echoes a centuries-old virulence against lapdogs that would feature more prominently by the end of the nineteenth century.



Eliot, George. Middlemarch. London; Glasgow: Collins’ Clear-Type Press, 1852. Google Book Search. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.

“Pets, and What They Cost.” Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art (May-Aug.). Ed. W.H. Bidwell. New York: No. 5 Beekman St., 1856. 410-5.

“Innovative” Animal Farming (part 2)

A widespread global subculture exists of artisans who “farm” their pet hair for crafting material. For example, Amazon offers a Japanese book on the subject, and more grotesquely reminiscent of taxonomical experiments, the Daily Mail has reported that some folks have made their dead pets’ hides into clothing.

The previously-quoted 1899 article on feeding hens newspaper also mentions the successful establishment of “cat fur farms” (“Another Perpetual Motion”). The suffragist vegetarian Frances W. Willard published a very practical guide called Occupations for Women (1897) wherein she advocates for pet-boarding and breeding as “profitable and congenial business” options (117). In this handbook, she disapprovingly distinguishes such “cat lovers” from the “heartless people” who have set up cat fur farms.



“Another Perpetual Motion.” Dental Digest 5 (Jan.-Dec.). Chicago: J.N. Crouse, 1899. Google Book Search. Web.

Willard, Frances E. Occupations for Women. New York: Success Co., 1897.

“Dog-Whip Day”

ENGLISH. On certain designated holidays and festivals, usually in October, boys armed themselves with makeshift weapons and roundly whipped “the unlucky dogs found running in the streets” (i.e., ownerless dogs) (Walsh 341). This public display of masculine violence was enacted upon the bodies of unprotected dogs as an annual ritual, a ritual steeped in a narrative of divine revenge.

In York, the story accuses a dog of having stolen and consumed a sample of whatever food served as the Eucharist for that day’s mass, for which crime “all its brethren were doomed to a periodical flagellation in memory of the sacrilege” (Walsh 341). In Hull, another legendary dog is charged with breaking into the monasterial larder and stealing a joint of meat (which was recovered). In each case, the canine crime is a crime against the so-called natural order of things: dogs cannot, must not, partake of the flesh of Jesus nor of meat designated for human consumption (note that the article describes the joint as being “rescued” for this higher purpose!). And to remind dogs of their rightful (i.e., lower) place, an annual “thrashing” was deemed an appropriate response (Walsh 341).

This logic of this (extremely) ex post facto punishment is quite odd to us now, when we see the dog as rational and sentient, but would fail to see how any dog could be expected to appreciate being punished for an ancestral crime. In the medieval period, animals—sometimes alongside their human coconspirators—would be put on actual trial for alleged crimes, so it would not be a far leap to hold the dog responsible for a crime committed by a long-dead member of its race.       

The history of the Church and the animal is a complicated one, as Catholicism (and Christianity) have long invested in the notion of the Great Chain of Being that ranks all heavenly and earthly beings in a rigid and essential hierarchy. Dog-whipping seems to be steeply grounded in the Catholic tradition as an expression of the divine order of things (human > animal)—the emphasis being on order. This is likely why, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, churches “in every county of England” (Pendleton 111) would employ professional “dog-whippers” to “keep order” in their sacred spaces by driving out sleeping humans and errant dogs. The whipping was quite literal: “The whip in question is a stout lash, some three feet in length, fastened to a short ash-stick with leather bound round the handle” (Pendleton 111, also Walsh 342).

These “curiosities” of were being remarked upon and re-recorded in the 1880s, a period steeped in increasingly intimate human-dog intimacies and organized movements fostering “humaneness” towards animals.



Pendleton, John. A History of Derbyshire. London: Elliot, Stock, 1886. Google Book Search. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.

Walsh, William S. Curiosities of Popular Customs. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co. and London: 6 Henrietta Street, 1897. Google Book Search. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.